In reluctant praise of Reader’s Digest

I have been reading Reader’s Digest, a publication I last enjoyed some 40 years ago. I find it curiously, and reassuringly, unchanged. Back in the day, my father used to bring home old copies passed to him by a colleague and I, aged ten, would test my Word Power, smugly congratulating myself on near-perfect scores. I did it again today and the only word that defeated me was “rodomontade” which apparently means bragging. I say apparently, because, just as first time round in the early 1970s, I felt some of the RD definitions were at best ambiguous. For example, would you say schmoozing was synonymous with chatting? I wouldn’t. I’d say it was socializing or networking to gain favor or advantage. Sure, it’s usually verbal or at least oral–slurping is a form of schmoozing–but chatting doesn’t seem to quite cover it.

Anyhow, I mention this, not as rodomontade but because, on careful reading of this month’s issue, it occurs to me that the target audience of Reader’s Digest must surely be the most terminally self-satisfied ever to peruse a periodical. RD is a publication for people who always find others wanting: there is an article where decisive people share advice designed to help ditherers make up their minds; another column entry sneers at the foolishness of the people who choose 123456 or password as their password; a third laments that over-complex meals, and generational problems with memorization, mean that wait staff now have to write down your restaurant order. There are 13 things your plumber won’t tell you. Aha, he’ll never guess that you are an RD subscriber, and thus assuredly ahead of the game. There is an article on the danger and frequency of unnecessary CT scans. Next time you are in the Emergency Room, take note–the man refusing a scan for minor head trauma will be an RD reader.  States with the highest rates of road death are named and shamed. No RD subscriber will ever take an RV trip to Montana ever again.

In among all mistrust and dissatisfaction and quiet superiority, are articles about everyday acts of heroism. You just know that RD readers are identifying all the way, confident that they too would be good in a crisis. The funnies are of the gently disparaging kind, poking fun at people who misunderstand, become confused, or get it wrong.

It is a squarely middle class, “I didn’t get where I am today…” sort of publication and unnervingly readable. I read it nodding my head, tsking in places and reminding myself to make a note of this or that to share with others. I don’t like myself for it, but there it is.

BTW, the Digest defines “bombastic” as meaning pompous, but surely this is only the half of it? Doesn’t bombastic imply a forceful, perhaps hectoring note? It would, I feel, be possible to be quietly pompous, but not quietly bombastic? As with all RD readers, I am sure I’m right.

About Liz Barron

US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger,cook, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveler.
This entry was posted in Culture with the Crone, Tales of a Belfast girlhood and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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